MINELRES: Georgia: FIDH/HRIDC Open Letter to Javier Solana

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Jul 12 17:57:01 2004


Original sender: Ucha Nanuashvili <hridc@internet.ge>


Open letter to Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the Council of the EU
and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, on
the occasion of the EU/CFSP mission "State of law" in Georgia

Paris, July 9, 2004

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights
Information and Documentation Center (HRIDC) express their concern over
the recent evolution of human rights in Georgia , in the autonomous
republic of Ajaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This evolution may
reveal a gap between the declarations aroused by the new authorities in
favour of democracy and the reality.

According to the information received, the recent legislative and
constitutional changes, which have challenged a republican-style balance
of powers, are of particular concern. The changes made by the
Parliament, on February 6, 2004, strengthened presidential powers,
allowing the president to dissolve parliament. Another amendment
empowers the president to appoint and dismiss judges, thereby increasing
the president's influence over a judiciary that already suffers from a
lack of independence. Moreover, the government rushed through those
constitutional changes without publishing the draft amendments for
public discussion, as required by the Constitution. 

In addition, the new President Mikhail Saakachvili's statements on law
enforcement seem unlikely to encourage lower officials to respect human
rights. President Saakashvili said on January 12, 2004, on Rustavi 2 TV:
"I... have advised my colleague, Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, I
want criminals both inside and outside prisons to listen to this very
carefully, to use force when dealing with any attempt to stage prison
riots, and to open fire, shoot to kill and destroy any criminal who
attempts to cause turmoil. We will not spare bullets against these
people". And then on February 3, 2004, still on Rustavi 2: "I gave an
order to the [the Interior Minister to] start this [anti-crime]
operation and, if there is any resistance, to eliminate any such bandit
on the spot, eliminate and exterminate them on the spot, and free the
people from the reign of these bandits." 

The FIDH and the HRIDC consider that those declarations from the highest
official authorities contribute to the climate of fear and violence in
Georgia. Excessive use of violence by the police and by the law
enforcement bodies have been clearly denounced, for years, by both
national and international organisations. 
On January 11, 2004, police dispersed by force a demonstration that was
blocking the central road for several hours in Terjola in a protest
against the detention of Zaza Ambroladze, so-called "legal chief" of
village Chiatura in the region. Its participants were severely beaten
and some of the organizers were persecuted even after the demonstration
had already finished. That was for instance the case of Zaal Adamia,
beaten at his house and then taken to the police station unconscious.

On January 28, 2004, special police forces violently dispersed the
demonstration of street traders in Tbilisi. They protested the decision
of Tbilisi municipality regarding the prohibition of street trading from
February 1st. The head of the police group Temur Mgebrishvili beat one
of the women demonstrators. Three persons were injured. 

The excessive violence used in the arrest of Old Calendarist Priest,
Basil Mkalavishvili, on March 12, 2004, also illustrates this
phenomenon. The HRIDC, although admitting the necessity to sanction
Basil Mkalavishvili and other religious extremists, condemned the way
the police stormed the church and beat approximately 30 people. 

On June 9, 2004, the special police forces dispersed with the use of
excessive violence a protest action against the construction of an oil
pipeline in the village of Krtsanisi and detained two demonstrators.
Furthermore, the Interior Ministry's Special Forces dispersed the public
action of the three-day hunger strike of the victims of the earthquake,
kept in front of the municipality building on July 1, in Tbilisi. The
protesters, who required additional allocation in the city budget in
order to provide them with relief resources, and also demanded the
hearing with the president, were all beaten with clubs. One of them was
taken to the hospital, severely injured by the police.

The increasing number of torture, inhuman and humiliating treatments, as
well as arbitrary detentions also remains matters of deep concern for
the FIDH and the HRIDC. The police practices various methods of torture
- blows with rubber sticks or with back of the chair, locking in the
safe and beating from outside, hanging the victim with the hands, use of
electricity, etc. - in order to extort confessions and get evidence,
sometimes completely false. 

In the morning of December 20, 2003, Giorgi Inasaridze, arrested the
previous night, was found hang in the cell of pre-trial detention centre
of the Ministry of Interior. His suicide is subsequent to alleged
ill-treatment by policemen. The case is being investigated, but no
criminal charges had yet been brought against the police officers on
duty.

On January 28, 2004, Shalva Orvelashvili, accused of theft, was detained
in Vake-Saburtalo regional Police Station No. 2 Subdivision and was
being severely tortured for five days. Before being transferred to a
prison, he was threatened not to reveal the reason of his body injuries.

On April 14, the Gardabani Regional Police detained a resident of a
village of Akhalsoplei, 24-year-old Iakob Martiashvili, who was
compelled to admit illegal keeping of arms. At first, he was taken to
the forest, where he was tortured, denuded and threatened with rape.
Later, he was taken to the police station where torment continued.
Police officers justified it, presuming his suspicion in a murder that
took place in the village a month before.

On April 22, 2004, Messrs. Gia Lobzhanidze and Valeri Kurtanidze were
brutally detained by six armed policemen in civilian. During their
detention in the Police Department of Didube-Chugureti region, they were
tortured to make them confess to the flat robbery. Then, in the Tbilisi
Main Office of the Internal Affairs, where they were transferred,
tortures, including those with electric wires and electric stick,
continued, in order to extort confessions. At present, they are serving
three months of pre-detention in prison No. 5.
Mr. Khvicha Kvirikashvili, charged with burglary, died shortly after
being in police custody.  Interrogated twice, on 22 and on 23 May, in
the third department of the Gladni-Nadzaladevi police, he died 25
minutes after being taken home in a taxi by police officers. Multiple
injuries on his body indicate that he was being tortured. An
investigation has been opened.

The reason of death of Mr. Arsen Khutsishvili, who died on May 31 in the
First Prison of Tbilisi, remains unexplained. According to the official
version, his death is due to heart attack, whereas his family sustains
that his body wore signs of torture and that his death is directly
related to the wound in stomach area, apparently inflicted by scissors. 

The FIDH and the HRIDC note that the climate of fear and violence goes
hand in hand with the disappearances which recently occurred in Georgia.
For instance, Vazha Shengelia, the Tbilisi Labor Party leader, was
kidnapped on March 30, 2004. His unknown captors have finally released
him after five days. 

Two Chechens, Islam Khashiev and Hussein Alkhanov, disappeared in
Georgia after being acquitted by a Tbilisi Court on February 6, 2004.
They were accused of violating border regulation. Their fate remains
uncertain despite the claim of one Russian media on February 25, 2004,
that they were detained by Russian authorities. However, in a BBC's
Hardtalk interview on March 8, 2004 President Mikhail Saakashvili denied
that Georgia has "secretly extradited to Russia the two Chechens,"
though he quoted them as "armed combatants." Despite the Tbilisi court
decision, which acquitted the two Chechens, Georgian President said
"they definitely are combatants, according to my information". 

The FIDH and the HRIDC are also preoccupied by the restrictions to
freedom of information and media in Georgia. According to the NGO The
Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, the government exercises
pressure on the independent media by threatening the editors and heads
of TV companies of financial control or through real implementation of
those threats. The report of the Directorate of Strategic Planning (DSP)
of Council of Europe, entitled " Compliance with commitments and
obligations: the situation in Georgia " dated June 28, 2004, states that
according to the civil society, the situation of media independence has
recently worsened. In their view, links between the political forces and
media owners had become stronger and this had an influence on the
editorial policy of the media outlets. They noted also that the
post-revolution regime was less tolerant towards criticism than the
previous one, not so image-conscious.

In December 2003, Nato Oniani's Program "Time Out" on 1st Channel was
cancelled. According to Mrs. Oniani, the government is responsible for
the cancellation of the program. 

On February 19, 2004, the representatives of the General Prosecutors'
Office of Georgia launched a special operation and sealed the offices of
the company "Omega Group", which is constituted by independent TV
company "Iberia", news agency "Media News" and newspaper "Akhali Epoka".
The representatives of the General Prosecutors' Office claimed that the
group was involved in a large-scale illegal cigarette importing racket
and tax evasion, but so far no evidence has been revealed. 

On February 4, 2004, two of the most popular privately owned TV stations
"Mze" and "Rustavi2" had their highly-rated political talk shows,
respectively "Night Mzera" and "Night Courier", unexpectedly cancelled.
The fact that the shows were cancelled on the same day was explained as
a simple coincidence. The Mze representative offered assurance that the
program, as well as the host, Inga Grigolia, who was supposedly on the
way to Egypt and unavailable for comment, will be back on the air in
March after some technical changes are made. Unfortunately, most of this
information happens to be completely false. Inga Grigolia quit Mze.
Besides, Eka Khoperia's "Night Courier" was replaced with another
program where no debates take place. On April 5, 2004, the TV Company
"Ninth Channel" also ceased operations for no apparent reason.
Opposition factions in the Parliament expressed the view that the
simultaneous suspension of political shows on several TV stations was
the result of government pressure.

On May 10, three assailants attacked Mr. Zurab Kachlishvili, editor in
chef of the local newspaper "Objective", who was writing about the waste
of money in the local administration. The unidentified men beat him in
his own apartment in Kakheti, ordering him to leave the city.

Moreover, the FIDH and the HRIDC strongly condemn the fact that human
rights defenders are also often subjected to violence. For example, on
May 4, Mr. Levan Sakhvadze, head of the Rustavi branch of the NGO Former
Political Prisoners for Human Rights, was badly beaten by the unknown
assailants. 

The FIDH and the HRIDC want as well to express their deep concern over
the situation of Chechen refugees in Georgia, where they lack of
humanitarian aid and are often exposed to dangerous security conditions
despite the presence of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the
region. The Georgian branch of the UNHCR has repeatedly ignored the
rights of refugees and violated internationally recognized security
norms by sending Chechens back to Chechnya against their will, while
offering shelter in neutral countries to non-Chechen refugees who have
fled to Georgia. Additionally, the UNHCR has granted only the minimum
amount of aid to keep Chechen refugees alive. According to the Human
Rights Information and Documentation Centre, the branch has been guilty
of flagrant corruption, gross incompetence, as well as of conducting an
intentional and systematic policy of discrimination against Chechen
refugees. On May 10, 23 Chechen refugees in Pankisi Gorge went on a
hunger-strike, which they have been planning to continue until the UN
meets their demands of sending them to another country.

The FIDH and the HRIDC remain concerned over the increasing tensions
between Tbilisi and the autonomous province of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia. In late May, Tbilisi stepped up pressure on South Ossetia by
establishing checkpoints at the Georgian-Ossetian administrative border
crossings in order to, according to them, eradicate smuggling and
corruption. On June 1, Georgian Security Council Secretary, Vano
Merasbishvili, was ready to increase the number of troops and arms in
the joint South Ossetia peacekeeping contingent. South Ossetia leader,
Eduard Kokoiti, using former Ajaria President's language, issued an
order to his loyalists "to use weapons if the state border of South
Ossetia is violated".

The tensions between these autonomous republics and Tbilisi follow the
declarations of the Georgian President Saakachvili, who wishes to
restore the Georgian territory integrity. Raul Khadzimban, Prime
Minister of Abkhazia, and Maurad Dzhioyev, South Ossetia self-styled
foreign minister, both rejected this project on May 6, 2004 following a
speech made by the Georgian President suggesting the possibility of the
creation of a federation with these republics.

The FIDH and the HRIDC hope that both in the republics of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia the crisis will find a peaceful resolution, that the human
rights will be fully respected and that the authorities will guarantee
the physical and psychological integrity of the civil population.

More generally, the FIDH and the HRIDC ask the Georgian government to
comply with the international standards on human rights and fundamental
freedoms, including the freedom of information, freedom of the media and
administration of Justice. The excessive use of violence by the police
and by the law enforcement bodies, as well as torture, inhuman and
humiliating treatments and arbitrary detentions, reported more and more
systematicly, also remain matters of a special concern for the FIDH and
the HRIDC. 

The International Community is looking forward, since the Rose
revolution, to concrete steps on the way to the Rule of law in Georgia.
The European Union - Georgia "Partnership and Cooperation Agreement"
that includes the human rights clause, signed in June 1996 and entered
into force in July 1999, makes of Georgia a direct partner of the
European Union. Therefore, the FIDH and the HRIDC hope that the EU will
be consistent with its commitments and will exert political and
diplomatic pressure on Georgia for respecting and guaranteeing the
respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country. The
FIDH and the HRIDC highlight the necessity for the EU to urge Georgian
authorities to fulfil their international obligations in the field of
human rights.



Sidiki Kaba                     Ucha
Nanuashvili                                                                                                            
President of the FIDH           Executive Director of the HRIDC


cc: Sylvie Pantz, head of the EU/CFSP mission "State of law" in Georgia